Gavels fell on the Legislature’s first special session Wednesday night sending lawmakers home after 135 grueling days.
The House and Senate both gave final approval to new two-year operating and capital budgets on the session’s final day. In short, the operating budget cuts $108 million, or 26 percent, from WSU’s state appropriation and provided authorization for consecutive tuition increases of 16 percent, which would reduce the net cut to about 5.2 percent.
It’s worth noting that WSU’s state appropriation for the next two years is $1 million smaller than the one the Legislature appropriated for the university 20 years ago.
Overall, the Legislature left $723 million in reserve. Of that, $442 million is unrestricted. The next state revenue forecast is June 16.
The capital budget most notably provided $35 million for WSU’s $71 million Biomedical and Health Sciences Building in Spokane. The $72 million budget for WSU also included $24.3 million for preservation activities.
Dr. Gregory Belenky, director of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Aviation, Operations, Safety and Security subcommittee yesterday on the importance of sleep and air traffic controllers’ effectiveness on the job.
Dr. Belenky shakes hands with WA Senator Maria Cantwell after the hearing.
Dr. Belenky (center) discusses the hearing with FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt (left) and Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel III. Also testifying at the hearing was National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi.
Dr. Belenky’s research in the sleep lab at WSU Spokane supports the idea of providing air traffic controllers with on the job napping built into their work schedule. The sub-committee may consider new regulations on the FAA to control safety oversight as a result of the recent increase in air-traffic controller errors.
The compromise operating budget introduced by legislative leaders and approved by the House Tuesday would cut WSU’s state appropriation by $108 million, or about 26 percent.
That represents a slight improvement over proposals earlier put forth by the House and Senate. The net cut would be kept to $39 million, or 5.2 percent, with the implementation of 16 percent tuition increases authorized in the budget.
The spending proposal also incorporated most of the changes sought by WSU to help manage its cuts. The plan does not dictate how the university must achieve compensation savings, for example.
The proposal was approved 54-42 in the House Tuesday evening and now needs approval in the Senate before today’s scheduled adjournment of the Legislature’s 30-day special session.
Also needing approval is a capital budget. An agreement was reached Tuesday morning after all-night negotiations produced a path forward for a debt reduction plan. An actual budget proposal and project list is expected to be announced this morning.
After a busy weekend in the statehouse it appears as though the Legislature is progressing toward adjournment. This would come not a week too soon as its 30-day special session is due to expire on Wednesday.
You can read more about key developments here and here.
There is still a lot of work to be done before lawmakers can leave town. An operating budget agreement has yet to be announced and there is no resolution so far as to a debt reduction measure that would pave the way for the passage of a capital budget.
In addition, WSU is tracking a pension bill that, as approved by the Senate, would allow universities to continue to offer a defined contribution retirement plan to exempt staff. It needs a concurrence vote in the House.
And on a final note, the Senate on Sunday gave final approval to a bill that would replace the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board with a new Council for Higher Education. Many functions of the HEC Board would still exist and be transferred to other entities after the board sunsets on July 1, 2012. The membership and responsibilities of the newly formed council would be determined by a steering committee.
The weekend papers featured a couple of opinion pieces worth noting that hailed last week’s signing of legislation that would create a pathway for WSU to assume management of the University Center of North Puget Sound in 2014. This Seattle Times editorial hailed the development as a “triumph of persistence”.
And this column co-authored by Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen and Nick Harper appeared in the Everett Herald. In it, they assert the bill represents “a major victory for North Puget Sound residents.”
Governor Christine Gregoire this afternoon signed Senate Bill 5636, creating a pathway for WSU to gain management of the University Center in Everett in 2014.
The bill won’t actually take effect until the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board considers whether the matter must first go through its systems design review process. With the HEC Board’s blessing, a coordinating and planning council would draft a strategic plan for appropriate baccalaureate expansion at the center to submit to the Legislature along with a budget. The Legislature must approve future expansions.
WSU also would be required to begin an engineering program at the center.
University President Elson Floyd and regents Laura Jennings and Connie Niva participated in the bill signing ceremony along with an array of key legislators and North Puget Sound community leaders and stakeholders.
The governor is scheduled to act on Senate Bill 5636 at a signing ceremony Thursday afternoon in Olympia.
Some 29 bills are slated to be acted upon at the 1:30 event.
The bill would create a pathway for WSU to assume management of the University Center located at Everett Community College in 2014. It was approved by wide majorities in both the House and Senate this year.
The state House of Representatives Monday afternoon approved a bill granting Washington’s six public four-year universities tuition setting authority for eight years beginning this fall. House Bill 1795 was approved 79-17 and now heads to the Senate, where it likely will be sent to the Ways and Means Committee.
The bill would give universities a choice of setting tuition rates up to levels prescribed in the budget as is currently done or exceed that threshold and trigger new financial aid obligations for low and middle income students.
Either way, all universities would increase what they put into financial aid programs. Currently, 3.5 percent of all tuition revenue is held back for financial aid. Under the bill, that figure would increase to 4 percent for universities that do not exceed tuition thresholds listed in the budget and 5 percent for those that do.
This authority would last for four years. Universities then would have authority to set rates for an additional four years with limits tied to rates seen in other Global Challenge States.
The bill also contains new performance and accountability requirements and would authorize universities to set differential tuition rates for high cost programs, though those differential rates could trigger new financial aid requirements.